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School board narrows trustee candidates to six finalists

By Jeri Chadwell

The Washoe County School Board of Trustees today narrowed the list of candidates for the now vacant District C seat from several dozen to six. Those six candidates will be interviewed and one selected on July 13.

District C covers a large geographic area that includes the North Valleys, Cold Springs, northern and eastern Sun Valley, Spanish Springs, Wadsworth and Gerlach.

The trustees spent several hours Tuesday morning hearing five-minute addresses from the candidates, who spoke about their unique qualifications for the position. Among them were former educators, parents, retirees, people with military experience and people with public service backgrounds.

Outspoken critics of the district and trustees were also among the candidates—including Bruce Parks and Kenji Otto, both of whom have in recent months attended every school board meeting to express their perspectives on district policies through public comment. Neither were selected by any of the trustees from the 27 candidates.

The final six candidates are John Gwaltney, Edward Kendall, Candie Lorenzo, Sean McCaffrey, Verita Black Prothro and Joe Rodriguez.

The board of trustees arrived at this list through a ranked-choice vote of their top five preferences to replace Caudill. While the trustees briefly debated interviewing only the top three candidates, a motion by Trustee Diane Nicolet to interview the top six won out in a vote of 4-2, with Trustee Kurt Thigpen and Clerk Ellen Minetto voting in opposition.

The candidate who received the most points in the ranked-choice voting was John Gwaltney at 23. With 19 points, Sean McCaffrey received the second most. Candie Lorenzo came in with the third most points at 13. Verita Black Prothro, Joe Rodriguez and Edward Kendall all received eight points.

John Gwaltney told the trustees he was there to provide the opportunity for them to examine some of the important things about him and his interest in public education. Gwaltney, who served on the Nevada State Board of Education for eight years, said his wife must have asked him a dozen times why he wanted the seat. Gwaltney was president of Truckee Meadows Community College from 1986 to 1994.

He also ran for the District C seat during the 2018 election, but dropped out before the primary due to a lack of funding.

He said that during his time with the State Board of Education he was asked by late Senator William Raggio to help reorganize that board, which he said that he did with the help of former state senator and current Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.

Gwaltney congratulated the board of trustees and school district on strides made in recent years to improve the district’s graduation rates. He said he would like to see more time and resources dedicated to helping students who may be more interested in entering the workforce upon graduation than heading for a four-year college education. 

He also advised that he believes political flashpoints are fleeting and that the board should not engage too deeply in them, referencing without naming specifically recent battles over school board discussions that have drawn broad public input and national news headlines.  

Sean McCaffrey has served on the Washoe Education Foundation board of directors and is a past executive committee board member for Education Alliance of Washoe County.

McCaffrey highlighted his work in 2015 to move an eighth grade career expo to a central location where all students could be bussed in and receive lunch so that each of them received the same quality of experience. He said prior to that year businesses had visited more than a dozen middle schools for career fairs, and students at outlying schools had not been afforded the same experience—adding that he would like to continue considering ways to create equity for students in District C, which encompasses areas with both high and low household incomes.

Candie Lorenzo told the trustees she’s been in Washoe County for 20 years. She’s the mother of three WCSD students, including a 2020 North Valleys High graduate. Her middle school student attends O’Brien. Her elementary school student attends Stead.

Lorenzo told the board that she appreciates the infrastructure investments to schools in District C that have been afforded by the passage of Washoe County Ballot Question 1 in 2016. She said she also appreciates the dedication that her high school graduate’s teachers displayed to keep her eldest motivated to graduate and move forward in life amid the pandemic.

Lorenzo works as a management analyst for the City of Reno in the Civil Service Commission and said she considers herself a “steward of the tax dollar.”

Verita Black Prothro is a native Nevadan. She is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno, and Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Black Prothro told the trustees that her parents grew up in the American South during the era of segregation. She said that during her teenage years she had the opportunity to travel to the bayou community where her mother grew up and see the conditions in which she had to travel to school “walking uphill both ways.” She added that her mother had always considered an education in Washoe County as an opportunity and had advised her not to waste it.

“She said this is great. You have a wonderful opportunity. Make sure you get a good education, and make sure you always serve your community,” Black Prothro said of her mother’s advice.

Black Prothro said her relevant experience for the position includes having worked for the federal government and two congressional offices, saying it had taught her to be a good listener and to seek solutions for people in need.

Trustee Jeff Church commented following Black Prothro’s statements, saying she was the candidate about whom the most questions and comments had been submitted. He asked if she still served on a board with WCSD Board President Angie Taylor. She explained that she and Taylor had served together on the Nevada Black Cultural Awareness Society board 20 years ago.

Church also asked if Black Prothro was new to District C. She said she’s lived in that district for two years.

Edward Kendall said the reason he wants to be the District C trustee is that now he’s retired he can continue “to protect and serve Nevada’s future.”

Kendall presently works for the Nevada legislative police. He served for 20 years as a police officer for the Washoe County School District, serving as both a K9 officer and a field training officer. He was also the union president for several years for the WCSD police officers’ union.

Joe Rodriguez—who has three children attending WCSD schools—moved to Nevada as a teenager. He told the trustees that he has spent his entire adult life in public service.

Rodriguez began his career as a firefighter for the Nevada Bureau of Land Management in Stead when he was 18. He later joined the Nevada National Guard, where he served for 11 years and was sent to both Afghanistan and Haiti. He said during that time that he “made soldiers, trained them and served side-by-side with them.” He said working with people of diverse backgrounds and different racial backgrounds was beneficial to shaping his perspectives.

Rodriguez has been in law enforcement since 2006. He works for the Nevada State Fire Marshal’s office and was in charge of the investigation into the explosion at UNR’s Argenta Hall in 2019.

“So, between the fire, military and law enforcement, people don’t call us when they’re having their best day. You learn to deal with problems that people are experiencing and having,” he said.

Rodriguez said he doesn’t see problems in the district. Rather, he said, he sees “opportunities for change and betterment.”

This Is Reno will report on the trustees’ decision following interviews of the six candidates next week.

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